Marking 2024 World Population Day

Today, Nigeria joins the international community to mark this year’s World Population Day. The Day is observed on July 11 every year, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues.

The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1989. It was inspired by the public interest in Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987-approximately the date on which the world’s population reached five billion people.

According to the most recent United Nations estimates, the human population of the world is expected to reach eight billion people in the spring of this year. Population in the world is currently growing at a rate of around 1.14 percent per year. The average population change is currently estimated at around 80m per year.

Annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at 2% and above. However, the yearly growth rate is currently declining and it was estimated that it would become less than 1% by 2020 and less than 0.5% by 2050.

UN projections indicate that world population will nearly stabilise at just above 10bn persons after 2062.By 2030, India’s population is expected to surpass China’s, to become the largest country in the world. Nigeria’s population is expected to surpass the United States’ population in 2045 to become the third most populous country in the world, starting to rival China by the end of the century, with almost one billion people in 2100.

Currently, Nigeria’s population is based on guesswork. It is widely estimated at between 180m and 200m. No one can accurately state how large we are now. The figures being bandied about are based on the 2006 headcount, using an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent. Then, there is the political dimension where one state accuses the other of inflating figures for political and socio-economic gains. For instance, Lagos state alleged that it was undercounted by half the figures allotted to it which was put at 7.5m

It is a huge shame that Nigeria, despite the massive resources available to it, cannot conduct a credible headcount in a 21st Century world. It is also a demographic disaster in the sense that a nation that cannot boast of an accurate census cannot plan well for its citizens. Critical planning is never based on conjecture. Nobody can even say for sure the nation’s annual birth and death rates.

Furthermore, we make bold to say that achieving higher population, though an asset to a nation, is not enough. A nation that cannot cater for its populace by providing the citizens with basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, healthcare, education, employment as well as security will find its population a liability rather than an asset.

Population issues, according to experts, revolve around family planning, gender equality, child marriage, human rights, right to health, among others. Among the critical challenges posed by overpopulation and poor management of population are hunger, poverty, ignorance, disease, etc.

Regrettably, most Nigerians see child bearing from religious or cultural point of view. They regard kids as gifts from God. As such, they procreate freely in the belief that God would provide for them. That fallacy has thrown up many kids that suffer neglect from childhood and end up as criminals, social misfits and nuisances to their communities in particular and the country in general. Gone are the days when huge numbers of kids were assets to till the farm.

Nigeria’s last attempt at the exercise was in 2023 but it was shelved by the last administration because it was an election year with part of the N190bn naira budgeted for the headcount already spent. There was also the argument about conducting a holistic exercise when some parts of the country are presently inaccessible because of pervasive insecurity ranging from kidnapping, banditry to terrorism. 

Be that as it may, government at all levels has a responsibility to enlighten its citizens on the socio-economic implications of unplanned child bearing. Most families, especially those in the lower rungs of the social ladder, can hardly afford three square meals daily, pay school fees and meet other simple needs owing to the economic downturn.

Family planning facilities should be provided in all our healthcare centres across the country, especially in the rural communities to encourage the people to embrace the practice for free or at affordable costs. Population is not all about the size but also the quality. When population has no quality, it is no longer an asset but a huge burden of the country.

Nigeria’s participation in the commemoration becomes meaningless if we continue to grope in the dark, unable to plan accurately for our socio-economic wellbeing now and in future.